Friday, June 30, 2006

The Root of District Trouble & An Example

Charlie Mas said...
The fundamental problem with Seattle Public Schools, the fault at the root of all of the district's trouble, is the fact that the District is structurally and culturally incapable of responding to the needs of the community it purportedly serves. As a consequence of this fundamental failure people are choosing alternatives when the District does not meet the community's needs.

Anonymous said...
What bothers me as this goes along is that Joanne Bowers, the principal at Viewlands, should have become the new principal at Greenwood (the current principal is retiring). The district is advocating, if Viewlands closes, that Greenwood take a large number of Viewlands students. Who is in the best position to unite these schools? Who knows the most about the autism program and how to make this inclusion program work? Who has started a school previously (ORCA)? The answer to all of those is Joanne Bowers and yet, the district, in yet another bone-headed move, has put Walter Trotter (a demoted ed director) at Greenwood. What has he done? Sent a letter to incoming Viewlands Kindergarten parents telling them to come to Greenwood. A little premature to say the least.

My commentary...
Charlie's words are so powerful for me. The concept that the district is "structurally and culturally incapable of responding to the needs of the community it purportedly serves," immediately gets me thinking about possible changes, reforms and initiatives to change the district's structure and organizational culture. And it sounds like Carla Santorno, the new Chief Academic Officer, may have similar ideas. She apparently made some immediate staffing and organizational structure changes upon her arrival.

The example from Anonymous of the district assigning a demoted Education Director, instead of a talented and well-liked principal from Viewlands, to be the new principal at Greenwood Elementary illustrates Charlie's point powerfully. There is no academic rationale for making that decision. There is no political rationale for making that decision. It truly is horrible from a public relations standpoint and from a customer service perspective, especially when the district needs to make the consolidations and closures look better in the eyes of the public, not worse.

So why make that decision? I buy Charlie's answer --- the district is "structurally and culturally" inept.


Anonymous said...

Doesn't the school itself have any say in the hiring of a new principal? Reading this makes me think the district does all the hiring of principals - what role does the school itself play? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

The rule is that when a principal is transferred to a school, the Superintendent makes that decision unilaterally and there is no community participation in the decision. When, however, a new principal is hired from outside the district, then a committee of community members has an advisory role.

The issue, of course, is which schools get transferred principals and which schools get principals hired from outside.

I think that any review of recent history will show that those buildings where family involvement is high the community had input. At buildings where there is less familiy involvement, typically at schools in predominantly minority and low-income neighborhoods, the community has no input.

This Superintendent has changed A LOT of principals. Rarely did the community have any input. In some cases, such as West Seattle High School, the community didn't even have notice. He pledged greater community involvement following the backlash of mass re-assignments, but has not fulfilled that pledge.

Despite the Board's stated value on community engagement, the Superintendent does not share that value.

Anonymous said...

When I write that the District is structurally incapable of responding to the needs of the community, consider for a moment where in the District's established processes there is any step that requires community involvement. It's not there, or it comes after the fact as "feedback". Consider who is the person who has the responsibility of responding to the community? Nobody.

You might say that everyone at the district has this responsibility, but that's when they are hamstrung by their culture. The culture of the district is not one that seeks input from the community. It is a top-down culture, so it isn't a culture that seeks input from anyone.